In the Summer of '96, GREEN DAY were drained by anxiety, illness and road exhaustion.Alan Di Perna caught up with the Boys as they chilled out...and stomped on their punk elders! (Guitar World August 96)
|GREEN DAY is a Ford band. Guitarist/singer Billie Joe Armstrong drives a '62 Fairlaine. Bassist Mike Dirnt has a truly ancient Ford van. These aren't vintage showpieces - just solid, American, working-class transport, with decidedly non-professional paint jobs. They're not the kind of cars most multi-Platinum rock stars drive.
Green Day's rehearsal room isn't very grand, either, just a rented garage attached to a rundown little house in a somewhat dicey section of Oakland, California. It's the kind of cramped, dank space where any local bunch of punters might rehearse to play a high school dance - foam rubber and a Manowar poster on the walls, a bong and some drums and amps. When the wind's right and the door's open, you can catch a whiff of cadavers roasting in the crematorium nearby.
"Cadaver.. .I like that word," muses Billie Joe. "It sounds like a big bird or something." These days, Armstrong's hair is mainly purple, with swatches of magenta and rusty-orange-blond around the side-burns. He resumes a discussion he's been having with Dirnt about the new cars their wives plan to buy.
"I told her, 'Get anything you want, as long as it isn't a Mercedes or a Volvo,' " says the Green Day bassist, who's equally disdainful of that other yuppie status vehicle, the Land Rover: "I could kick the bumper right off one of those."
Why do Green Day cling so resolutely to their working class roots? If it isn't just a put - on for the press (Billie Joe could, after all, have a Jaguar stashed in his garage), then maybe it's a coping mechanism. They've had to deal with an awful lot of success in a very short space of time. One moment, they were sleeping on friends' couches in Berkeley punk rock squats. Next minute, they were riding their 1994 major label debut album, Dookie, on a warp-speed course to sextuple Platinum. Poor babies, right? But Green Day have had to carry more than the usual load of ideological baggage on their trip to the top. Is it their fault that their brand of cheery, melodic punk rock was just the thing to fill the gaping void left by Kurt Cobain's shotgun?
The band's success has earned Green Day the resentment of first-generation punks, who accuse them of becoming rich off something they didn't even invent. The looney-toon trio have also fallen afoul of second-generation punk rock hardliners who reckon that Armstrong, Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool have sold out big-time. All this, of course, means nothing to most Green Day fans, many of whom were born after the late-Seventies heyday of the Pistols, Ramones and Buzzcocks. They just know that Green Day gives them an adrenaline rush they don't quite get from Bush, Blues Traveler or Alanis Morissette.
Earlier this year, it looked as if stardom had just become too much for Green Day. They cancelled a big European tour midway through—just pulled the plug and went home. Many thought it signaled the end of Green Day. But the guys insist they needed a rest and that the tour was cancelled because of fatigue, Mike Dirnt's medical problems and the demands of their personal lives (Armstrong and Tre Cool recently became fathers, and Dirnt is newly married). They say they'll be back and have already begun work on a new album, a follow-up to 1995's double-Platinum selling 'Insomniac'.
Armstrong and Dirnt have come too far together to pack it in now. They've been friends since they were 10. Billie taught Mike to play guitar when they were still in grade school, back in Rodeo, California, a lower middle class town just north of Berkeley. Dirnt eventually switched to bass, and the Replacementsesque, two - guitars - bass - and - drums band he and Armstrong formed became a turbo-charged trio.
"Mike's bass playing really provides a second melody in Green Day," says Armstrong. "A counterpoint to the vocals."
Dirnt is very much Green Day's secret weapon. He's one of those profoundly solid bass players who hold a group together without calling much attention to themselves. His goofball persona—plaid polyester pants and a doofus grin— belies a quiet thoughtfulness. As soon as they could, Dirnt and Armstrong got out of Rodeo, moved down to Berkeley and became part of the college town's Gilman Street punk scene. They released two indie albums, 39/Smooth and Kerplunk, on Lookout! Records, before being signed to Warner Bros, and making Dookie. Just as Dookie signaled a new phase for Green Day, Armstrong and Dirnt believe that their next album will mark another giant step for the band. Not a commercial one this time, but a creativeone. The boys are hinting that their next record will be their most ambitious ever.
Will they disappear up their own butts in the process? Or does Armstrong's deft way with a melody have the power to transcend genres and fashions? The answer is being worked out at this very moment in that dingy little garage with the Fords parked outside.
|GUITAR WORLD When did you first discover punk rock?
MIKE DIRNT I suppose when I was 14 years old.
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG I can remember a few different instances. There were these two guys who introduced me to things like D.O.A. and the Dead Kennedys. Then, in the seventh grade, there was a girl at school who would bring in records like T.S.O.L. and say, "Here, listen to this." But I think I really started getting into it in 1987 with Turn It Around, a double seven-inch compilation record put out by [punk fanzine] Maximumrocknroll.
GW Definitely California punk.
ARMSTRONG Mostly bands from the [San Francisco] Bay Area, yeah. There's a certain amount of depth that a lot of the bands from around here had, especially in the mid Eighties.
GW Billie, where do you get your sense of chord progressions?
ARMSTRONG From everywhere. I don't limit myself. I was really into Paul Westerberg and Bob Mould, and I think it started there. The Replacements and Husker Du are probably the bands that influenced me most. A lot of people try to pinpoint where we get our sound from. And they're all pretty much completely full of shit.
|DIRNT We always get this thing about how we're trying to sound like the Buzzcocks. I hadn't heard the fucking Buzzcocks when we started.
ARMSTRONG I thought it was supposed to be the Clash. Or was it the Ramones...?
DIRNT First off, you can't sound like any of those bands. And secondly, those are probably the last ones in my record collection.
ARMSTRONG Mine too. Those are all bands I got into later.
GW A lot of people say you sound like the Dickies.
ARMSTRONG The Dickies would like to think so. The Dickies would like to think they've influenced everybody. But basically the Dickies are just another Ramones rip-off.
DIRNT I've never owned a Dickies album, although I did see them live - I snuck into one of their shows at the Berkeley Square. I saw them right around the time of our second album. But by that time, we'd played so many shows it really had no bearing.
ARMSTRONG Those guys have to be the most bitter old bastards I've ever read about in my entire life. Their whole thing is, "It shoulda been us." Well, fuck you, it's not. It never will be. You're old and you're never gonna write a good song for the rest of your life.
CW Do you get a lot of resentment from first-generation punk bands?
ARMSTRONG Sometimes, but not a lot. Henry Rollins has a stick up his ass. He's another bitter old bastard. Basically he's complaining because we've made more money than he has. But hey, Henry, you fucking suck. You were not even close to being the best singer for Black Flag, and you didn't even write the lyrics back then. So why should I give a fuck what you think?
DIRNT The only band that has any right to be bitter would be the Ramones, because they fucking stayed together. But even then, I don't feel sorry for one of the most influential punk rock bands in the world-probably the biggest punk rock band in the world.
ARMSTRONG How can they complain? There are bands that were more influential to me who've never seen the light of day, yet even they're not complaining. Take what you've got and appreciate that. I didn't get into punk rock to get famous. It was already a proven fact that you couldn't get famous playing punk rock music. God, we were around for six years before we broke through-from '88 to '94. We did two albums and three EP's.
DIRNT This was at a time when bands like Guns N' Roses and Van Halen were totally on top.
ARMSTRONG You know who's another bitter old bastard? Johnny Rotten. He sounds like my grandmother, at times. He really sounds old. And he's so predictable in his comments about us. I mean, be a bit more novel. Try and come up with something new. On top of that, some of the stuff from P.I.L. [Rotten's post-Pistols group] was complete shit, as far as I'm concerned.
GW So what happened with this last tour? Why did you end it prematurely?
ARMSTRONG 'Cause we were burnt. We'd been on the road for two and a half years, non-stop.
DIRNT I was having panic attacks every day. The doctors wanted me on Xanax or Prozac all the time. And I wasn't gonna do it. I'd only take Xanax when I got so nauseous I couldn't go on stage. I would pass out. I'd say. "Oh God, I gotta lie down." Then I'd wake up six hours later, just from exhaustion.
ARMSTRONG I never thought I'd get to a point where I felt like I was pretending to enjoy myself onstage. But basically I was just going through the motions. We were at the end of our rope. It was mainly me and Mike-we were completely exhausted. The first tour we did was in '89. So we've been touring, on and off, for seven years. And in the past two years, we've done the most touring ever.
DIRNT Also, I've been having heart problems for the last few years, where I felt like I was having minor heart attacks all the time. The doctors don't know what it is. I'm at the point now where I'm sick of looking for it. If it kills me, it kills me. It's been happening for a long time now, but it's gotten a lot worse. I'll be standing there and all of a sudden I'll feel like somebody's jammed a needle into my chest. I basically drop to the ground, gasping. And then my heart's always sore. It's a scary problem to have with the one part of your body that they don't know how to fix.
GW So your having ended the tour early doesn't signal the end of Green Day? Or that you're tired of the whole thing?
ARMSTRONG No. That's the thing: I don't want to be tired of Green Day. That's why we quit the tour.
GW Insomniac is the first album where you seem to get into writing from within other characters from a point of view that's not necessarily your own. Like "Brat," for example.
ARMSTRONG I like to write in the first person because I'd rather talk shit about myself than someone else. I do like to create characters. That song is about how envy develops into jealousy.
GW You guys were a breath of fresh air after grunge. You helped bring tight, concise songs back to rock.
ARMSTRONG Well, we write rock and roll music. We're a rock and roll band. We're extroverted and exhibitionist. We're not shoe gazers no way. We're demented. Up on stage, I'm gonna take my fuckin' clothes off and wiggle my little dick at everybody. I'm gonna be totally obnoxious and rude and spit in the eye of every fucking heavy grunge band that ever came out.
DIRNT It's nice that people actually picked out the difference between us and some of the grunge stuff. I really like Nirvana, but there is a difference between them and us. I thought a lot of people would just throw us in the same class.
GW Grunge has that Seventies metal vibe that isn't a part of your music.
DIRNT Yeah. Sabbath or something. Deep Purple type shit.
ARMSTRONG Well, "Brain Stew" is kinda metal.
GW Do you think that's why radio picked up on it? It almost has that "Kashmir" beat.
ARMSTRONG Hey, watch it, buddy. Who's Kashmir? No, actually I'm a metaller, in a lot of ways. I think Metallica's Master of Puppets is one of the best metal records of all time. And I really like the sound quality of Pantera's last record. The drums and guitars are enormous. That might seem an unlikely thing for me to say, but I like Pantera.
DIRNT I had a bad reaction to metal when I was younger. All of a sudden I hated it, couldn't stand it anymore. That's why, for all the good there is in Soundgarden, it's always been hard for me to like them. Their songwriting's getting better, but I still don't care for a lot of the high vocals. And Alice in Chains - their music's okay, but you see them live and it's like, "God, these guys are fucking metal." The bass player is a fucking hair machine. I've met these guys and they're like, black boots/leather jacket types. I dunno, man. They're nice guys, but you just can't take 'em seriously. When I saw them live, they were so separated from the crowd. I think their lead singer has a real problem with that. Whatever his name is.
GW Layne Staley.
DIRNT Yeah, Lame.
ARMSTRONG When 'Nevermind' came out, everybody was going for that "Butch Vig Big Muff sound." We just couldn't do that. Instead of sounding bigger, it would be defeating. So much saturation with such fast-paced music would sound like shit. But I really think Guns N' Roses' 'Appetite for Destruction' has a really good sound. I like that record a lot. I'm not ashamed to say it, either. I like a lot of the Cure's guitar playing, too. Robert Smith writes great songs and gets really great guitar sounds. I like Elvis Costello, and some of the guitar sounds he gets, too. Are you a Bush fan?
ARMSTRONG Good. I think those are some of the crappiest guitar sounds I've ever heard in my life. That song "Glycerine" has to have the shiftiest guitar sound ever.
DIRNT I don't like some of the vocal effects they use, either.
ARMSTRONG I've talked a lot of shit about Smashing Pumpkins, but I think the guitar sound on "1979" is really good, and so is the song itself.
DIRNT I think us talking shit about Smashing Pumpkins is more just making fun of how pathetic those guys are. Especially Billy Corgan. I think it would have been better if he hadn't made such a big issue of his guitar playing right when they put out their first album, like "I played most of the guitar on this album. Any hot licks you hear, that's me, not James [ha]."
GW What's it like to have to live up to someone else's definition of punk? Or being told that you've betrayed that ideal?
ARMSTRONG I can't think of anything less punk than establishing a set of rules. I don't set any rules on myself. I don't live up to anybody's expectations. I'm totally self-sufficient. That's what punk is about to me, not some elitist attitude.
DIRNT They're afraid of change.
THE END (First Published in Guitar World August 1996)